American Express Company (AXP), Bank of America Corp (BAC): Everything Seems to Be Going Up

On this day in economic and financial history …

The world’s first modern commercial elevator went into service in a New York City department store on March 23, 1857. Designed by Elisha Graves Otis and installed at the E.V. Haughwout store on Broadway and Broome, this was the first elevator to successfully go up and down with the same smooth motion, avoiding the pitfalls of earlier designs with a specially designed safety brake. Otis’ innovations allowed his Otis Elevator Company to expand rapidly in the largely unchallenged field of lifting people up and putting them back down again inside buildings.

American Express Company (NYSE:AXP)

Although Otis himself died only seven years later, his sons continued to manage the company, and as skyscrapers grew on the skylines of cities around the world, Otis Elevator grew with it. The Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, and the original Woolworth Building all used Otis elevators, but the company had already installed thousands of elevators before any of these iconic structures went up. Elevators not only allowed for taller buildings, but they also created thousands of jobs in the early years of the technology. Before automation, a trained operator needed to finesse the elevator into position, lest the doors open midway between floors.

The Otis Elevator Company remains the leading intrabuilding transport company in the world. Roughly 7 billion people — the equivalent of the world’s population — use the company’s elevators, escalators, and moving walkways every three days. Otis has been a part of United Technologies Corporation(NYSE: UTX ) since 1976 and is the company’s third-largest segment by revenue.

Canadian oil sands, eh?
Canada’s Suncor Energy Inc. (USA)(NYSE: SU ) announced a $15 billion acquisition of Petro-Canada, a former energy arm of the Canadian government, on March 23, 2009. The two companies would combine to become Canada’s largest energy company, with proven reserves of 7.5 billion barrels of oil equivalent and substantial holdings in the rapidly developing Canadian oil sands. Since Petro-Canada was founded as a Crown corporation (the equivalent of a state-owned enterprise), it contained a unique shareholding structure that had prevented anyone from owning more than 20% of it. That would ultimately not matter to the deal, which went through without a hitch several months later under the very mild regulatory requirement that the augmented Suncor sell off 104 of its gas stations in Ontario.

Suncor has had its ups and downs since then, but it is now firmly placed on the list of Canada’s largest companies. Three years after the deal, Canada’s largest oil company was the country’s fourth-largest public corporation, trailing three banks.

The biggest new legislation in a generation
President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, into law on March 23, 2010. At a packed ceremony in the White House, the president remarked: “[T]he bill I’m signing will set in motion reforms that generations of Americans have fought for and marched for and hungered to see. Today we are affirming that essential truth, a truth every generation is called to rediscover for itself, that we are not a nation that scales back its aspirations.”

The new law resulted in fierce legal challenges that worked their way to the Supreme Court, which upheld its legality just over two years after Obama signed it into law. Not only does the new law enact sweeping reforms across the bloated American health-care industry, but it also imposes new taxes and requirements on millions of Americans. Will this massive health-care overhaul have its desired effect, or will the warnings of government-sponsored doom come to pass? We’re sure to find out soon enough.